Goonyella and Unoccupied to lead raid on Becher Chase
Next month's Becher Chase could feature two of the most dour performers in the business after Unoccupied and Goonyella both featured among six Irish entries for the December 6 Aintree event yesterday.
No Irish handler has a better record in the three-mile-two-furlong handicap over the newly modified Grand National course than the late Dessie Hughes, who won it in 2008 and 2009 with Black Apalachi and Vic Venturi.
Ned Mitchell's 2005 triumph with Garvivonnian is the only other time that the £78,582 winner's purse has crossed the water since the race's inception in 1992.
Unoccupied and Goonyella are regulars in long-distance chases. Both ran encouragingly on their respective seasonal reappearance outings, and Jim Dreaper has confirmed that the Grand National is the long-term dream for Goonyella, which was second of three behind Plinth on his recent Punchestown hurdling return.
"All being well, Goonyella will go to Aintree," Dreaper said of Alan Potts' seven-year-old, now the mount of Jonathan Burke. "He is fine after his run at Punchestown. Obviously, two miles and six furlongs is too sharp for him and he just got outpaced.
"He needs three miles plus or even four miles plus. We think he is the sort who will take to the fences at Aintree. We would love to go for the Grand National, but only if he takes to it."
Goonyella finished eighth in the Welsh National and seventh in the Irish version last term, and Dreaper admits that it's hard to know if it is a good or bad thing for him to sample the once fearsome Aintree fences.
"There is a difference of opinion about going for the Grand National; some people feel your best chance is your first attempt, whereas others believe you're better off with experience.
"There have been many contradictory theories and the results show that here is no real pattern to it."
Eoghan O'Grady's Unoccupied was placed in the Cork National for a second time on its comeback.
Successful at Punchestown in May after being disqualified when first past the post in the Ulster National, he needs more luck than the 135-rated Goonyella to get in, with just two of the 47 entries possessing lower ratings than his 123.
"The horse is in very good form. We'll look at the entries first and see," O'Grady said of Unoccupied's possible participation. "He ran a nice race the other day and I'd like to run him if he can get into the handicap proper."
The 2012 Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai, Balbriggan, Roi Du Mee and Carry Each Other complete the cross-channel entry, with last year's winner Chance Du Roy and the Grand National fifth Rocky Creek among the early market leaders.
Willie Mullins, meanwhile, has solidified plans for his high-profile weekend entries, stating that Turban will run at Haydock tomorrow, Faugheen at Ascot and Ballycasey at Gowran Park on Saturday, with Navan on Vautour's agenda on Sunday.
"Faugheen runs at Ascot and hopefully he's the horse that everyone says he is," Mullins stated of the 3/1 ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite.
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